On this day in gay history the musical La Cage aux Folles (Yea Theatre Queens!) with a book by Harvey Fierstein and lyrics and music by Jerry Herman opened on Broadway in 1983.
Based on the 1973 French play of the same name by Jean Poiret, it focuses on a gay couple: Georges, the manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub featuring drag entertainment, and Albin, his romantic partner and star attraction, and the farcical adventures that ensue when Georges’s son, Jean-Michel, brings home his fiancée’s ultra-conservative parents to meet them. La cage aux folles literally means “the cage of mad women”. However, folles is also a slang term for effeminate homosexuals (queens).
According to Playbill Radio program director Robert Viagas, La Cage aux Folles predated the widespread “Ellen,” “Will & Grace” and “Queer Eye”-type recognition. “La Cage opened in a time when gays were just starting to be accepted and homosexuality was just starting to be talked about openly,” Viagas said. “A Chorus Line opened the door and then [came] Harvey Fierstein’s Torch Song Trilogy. La Cage took it a step further showing to a general audience that gays could actually form stable, long-term relationships and even raise children. The message of La Cage could be phrased as ‘Honor your mother — even if she’s a man.’ That was a revelation at the time, at least in the mass media.”
The early-season musical would beat out the rest of the year’s competition — including shows like Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George, John Kander and Fred Ebb’s The Rink and David Shire and Richard Maltby, Jr.’s Baby — taking home the top trio of musical prizes for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book. Actor Hearn, director Laurents and costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge would bring the show to a topping tally of six awards.
The original production starred George Hearn as Albin and Gene Barry as Georges
Watch the full musical performed by the American Musical Theatre of San Jose starring: Lee Roy Reams, George McDaniel, Ray Reinhardt, and Steven X. Ward below.